As if Americans weren’t divided enough, the recent leak of the Supreme Court’s apparent decision on the fate of Roe v. Wade has added even more fuel to the fire, burning whatever political bridges still remain among us. Briefly, it appears that the Supreme Court will overturn the decision that ensured that women would have a legal right to get an abortion and that state laws could not restrict. Now it appears that those restrictions previously outlawed will be allowed. That pleases some people and terrifies others, just as legal abortion terrifies some and pleases others. The terrorized and pleased have exchanged places.
This is an issue which is difficult to discuss with others, but years ago I had two conversations with people who taught me that understanding opposing viewpoints is possible, just not easy.
The first was with a man who had always voted the Democratic ticket, but, because his views on abortion differed from the party, he no longer did so, and his reason for that surprised me. He was middle-aged, Catholic, and for years had voted a straight Democratic ticket. But it was not because of the pro-choice plank in the Democratic Party platform that he no longer voted for Democrats. He could live with that, he told me, because the Democratic Party platform was in agreement with all of his other values. He no longer voted for Democrats because he felt he had been “shunned”—that was the word he used—because of his pro-life beliefs. He was shunned by other Democrats because he was not in complete accord with the entirety of the Democratic core beliefs, and because of that rejection, he cut himself off from the Party. I understood his concern because I had seen all too often the prejudice shown toward pro-life Democrats in the Montana Legislature.
The second conversation was with a conservative Evangelical Christian who wanted to know why I supported abortion rights. He was unusual in that he listened to what I had to say, and I suppose I was a bit unusual in that I allowed that I often had questioned my own beliefs on my position but felt that because there were so many different circumstances involved in each individual decision that it was best to leave the matter between a woman and her medical provider.
One of my great concerns, I told him, was the dilemma of ectopic pregnancies. That’s where the fertilized egg becomes attached somewhere other than the uterus; most often it’s the fallopian tube between an ovary and the uterus. There, in the fallopian tube, the embryo behaves just as it would in the womb. It develops and grows, but the tube, unlike the womb, does not expand to accommodate it. As the fetus grows, the fallopian tube ruptures and the woman’s life is endangered from loss of blood through internal bleeding and possible infection. To prevent that, the fetus has to be removed. Here is a choice to try the wisdom of Solomon. If nothing is done both the fetus and the mother die. If the fetus is removed, the mother lives. That is an abortion. There is no other word for it.
Surely that isn’t that common, some will say, but between 1 to 2 percent of all pregnancies are ectopic pregnancies and they account for almost 3 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths. But the number of occasions doesn’t matter, the moral choice is still the same: life or death.
He listened and if nothing else was satisfied that I had given the issue serious thought, and instead of becoming enemies we became friends.
There have been and will be many laws written to regulate abortion in America. Remember this: many laws are written not for the benefit of the public but to increase the political popularity of the legislator. Because of that, they have to be understandable to the public (not to mention the legislator) and to accomplish that they have to be simple. For every complex problem there is a simple solution—which is wrong.
Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.